Long seen as a prepaid mobile market, Africa's communications industry is on the cusp of a major upheaval. With the rollout of higher-speed 3G and 4G networks, and a fall in prices, many consumers are getting their first ever taste of data services.
Interest in social networking and other web applications is soaring, as rising incomes and a population explosion attract the attention of the world's biggest Internet players. But this upheaval is not confined to consumer and mobile markets. The fixed-line and enterprise sectors also looked poised for growth thanks to the increasing deployment of ultra-broadband (FTTx) and metro fiber networks, the introduction of IoT infrastructure, investments in new city WiFi networks and data center facilities, and even the introduction of SDN, NFV and other cloud/virtualization technologies, as Africa, along with the rest of the world, gears up for a 5G world.
That's why the industry needs the Connecting Africa community, which will track, analyze and report on all the major developments in Africa's communications market, identifying the key trends and talking to the movers and shakers who are transforming the continent.
The community will be the online portal that provides year-round coverage of a market that meets at the annual AfricaCom event (tmt.knect365.com/africacom) in Cape Town, as well as at the regional events, Nigeria Com (https://tmt.knect365.com/nigeria-com), East Africa Com (https://tmt.knect365.com/eastafricacom) and West Africa Com (https://tmt.knect365.com/west-africa-com).
The community site will provide year-round coverage of the key topics explored in Cape Town and there's a great deal to discuss, analyse and understand. For everyone involved in the region's communications sector, much is at stake. The mobile data boom has not yet translated into earnings growth for many. While the costs of making voice calls and sending text messages have continued to fall, consumers have taken advantage of cheap data deals to access Internet telephony and messaging applications, such as Viber and WhatsApp. That has put additional pressure on traditional sources of revenue, fueling mistrust between telcos and Internet players. There are few signs of functional partnerships.
The infrastructural challenges are also immense. Much of Africa's interior is poorly connected, lacking the fiber networks that can provide the "backhaul" for more advanced mobile Internet services. Network sharing could help operators to overcome these hurdles, but progress here has been halting. Regulation appears to be a further barrier.
But there is plenty of cause for optimism. Mobile money services, which first took shape in Africa, have become a vital source of growth for companies like Orange, and remain hugely important for Africa's economies. The enterprise market is flourishing, as businesses embrace a new wave of cloud and unified communications services. In urban hotspots, operators such as Liquid Telecom are even demonstrating that fiber-to-the-home networks can be commercially viable.
Perhaps above all, Africa's greenfield status could aid the rollout of new technologies. In more developed Western markets, operators are struggling to integrate digital systems with legacy platforms that cannot easily be shut down. Others continue to defer investments, preferring to sweat their existing assets for as long as possible. Few African service providers face the same dilemma. Already, there are signs of bold moves in areas such as digital transformation. Internet giants, meanwhile, see Africa as the perfect arena for the testing and launch of new connectivity technologies, as they strive to lower the costs of Internet access.
In the consumer market, the topics covered include:
- Mobile money
- Mobile content
- Broadband connectivity
- OTT threats
- 4G launches and spectrum
- Monetizing data
When it comes to the enterprise sector, the Connecting Africa community will explore issues such as:
- Cloud/managed hosting services
- Connectivity/broadband, fiber network rollout
- Metro, international capacity
- Colocation, data centers
- Web-scale players pushing into Africa
Content will take a variety of formats, including daily news analysis, executive interviews, expert guest contributions, video reports, webinars, community polls, slideshows and infographics.